Vache Anjaoghlyan, 61, had always toyed with the idea of moving to Armenia from Syria. He visited regularly before the Syrian Civil War, and even purchased an apartment in Yerevan while still living in Aleppo. Vache and his wife were hoping for their daughter to complete her university studies in Armenia, just as they had in the Soviet times.

In summer 2012, the family’s permanent move finally happened, though under unexpected circumstances. They were in Yerevan for a short visit, but the violence in Syria increased to the point of them not being able to return to Syria. And so, Vache had to find a source of livelihood for his newly uprooted family.

Back in Aleppo, Vache was involved in the business of printing on fabric, but his attempts to start the same business in Armenia were not successful. A civil engineer by profession, Vache is a natural problem solver, so he took it upon himself to start a new initiative.

“I first spent some time in research and marketing, I made calculations and compared prices, and then I started producing tahini, which is a Middle Eastern condiment made from ground sesame seeds. Tahini is used as a major component of hummus. We now produce it here [in Armenia] and it costs 40 percent less than tahini imported to Armenia,” Vache said.

To survive as a business, Vache eventually expanded the variety of his products and now they offer almost all oriental spices, special tomato and pepper pasta, pre-packaged oriental foods and much more. Vache’s clients aren’t just Syrian Armenians, but also many locals who enjoy oriental foods.

“I actually started this business to make myself a local, to get attached – by a job – to Armenia,” said Vache. He continued that although he might have had an easier time navigating the business environment in the U.S. or Europe, Vache was at a point in his life where he wanted to stay in his homeland.

In January, Vache received FAR’s business grant and a zero-interest loan to further develop his business. He was among nine other Syrian-Armenian business owners selected as the first recipients of FAR’s latest Small Business Assistance Program (SBA) that specifically helps Syrian-Armenian entrepreneurs to economically integrate in Armenia. SBA enables them to either further develop or start their own businesses in Armenia.

Vache purchased production machinery with the funds received through the SBA. A portion of the remaining funds has been allocated for the certification of new products.
“Our main market is the local market so far and all of my employees are locals. But we are looking for possible ways of cooperation outside of Armenia: Canada and Russia at the moment. The local market is small: production takes only 10 days, but then it takes 4 months to sell the product,” said Vache.

Vache lives in Yerevan with his wife and daughter, who is already a first-year university student. They work very hard to make this new home a forever home.

“In Armenia you have to calculate everything carefully. It is not easy, but I keep hope alive. The homeland is a real place. I realized this when I made the move. Armenia was a dream for us back in Syria. Now it has become a reality. It didn’t have to always be a pink dream,” Vache said, referring to unrealistic dreams often called “pink” in Armenian. “You should accept your dream whatever color it is,” Vache concludes with a large smile and promise in his eyes.